Saturday, June 27, 2015


You have to hand it to the Toronto Pinball Crew for keeping up on the pinball updates! One of the crew members dropped by California Sandwiches this past week and confirmed that KISS has found its way to the city! WHAT! Stern just started releasing this table and KISS has already touched down in Toronto. I couldn't help myself and made my way to California Sandwiches soon after finding out. KISS was indeed there and man oh man, am I excited to talk about it!

I am going to ahead and say it but this has to be one of Stern's best tables and will be considered an absolute classic. Stern really knocked it out of the park on this one. Custom hand-drawn artwork, great music, and a solid playfield come together to make one great table. The code is pretty bare-bones as per usual but even then, there's still plenty to do. I imagine that further updates will make this table even better.

The game begins in the same manner as Stern's other music-themed tables, AC/DC and Metallica, in that you select a KISS song and certain shots are activated according to that particular song. The game takes place at a KISS concert so along with selecting a song, you also select the city you're playing in. There's about 10 songs like DETROIT ROCK CITY and BLACK DIAMOND (two of my favorites) and they are live versions which add to the immersion of being at a KISS concert! Whether it's due to licensing issues with record labels or what, it works. Also, this table needs to be loud because it's rock 'n' roll! Good thing California Sandwiches table is turned up loud! So many times I caught myself rockin' out, air guitarin', and singin' along FIRST I DRINK ... THEN I SMOKE!
I have to warn you though that the autoplunger on this table is very impatient and will launch your ball within the span of 30 seconds, even if you're in the middle of selecting your song. Now that the game has started, let's take a look at the playfield.

This is cool, real cool.
Things have been on the up-and-up for Stern and they have been getting a bit bolder with their playfields. The running joke used to be that they bought many of their playfield toys from Toys 'R' Us but lately, they've been creating their own custom toys in-house and KISS really takes advantage of this! There is the custom-made GENE SIMMONS HEAD
and yes, he does spit balls out of his mouth, similar to Freddy on Nightmare on Elm Street!
There is also the Paul Stanley toy standing tall over the STARCHILD target section though it's more for show than anything. 
What made me really fall for KISS is that the table is just straight-up pinball. No goofy gimmicks, no bash toys; it's just ramps, targets, bumpers and loops. There's no mini-playfield nor is there anything that you have to hit over-and-over again to start multiball. This table is tough as heck and rewards clean play rather than slapping the ball all over the place. 

The ramps are tight as hell and will punish you if you do not make them. The center ramp is placed high in the upper center of the playfield and if the ball doesn't make up all the way... Yep, you guessed it! It's going straight down the middle. 

The right ramp is a little more forgiving in that unsuccessful shots have a chance of returning to the right flipper. On the other hand, it is a really steep ramp, steeper than anything on The Walking Dead or Metallica! Not only that, the ramp shot is really tight. It's the shot for Super Jackpot during Demon Multiball and trying to hit that while you have several balls flying around is one hellacious feat!

Speaking of which, Demon Multiball includes some semblance of difficulty. There are two targets on either side of the shot that you must hit in order to light the locks. What I like is that it's easy to get one but the other target is tougher. You have to earn those ball locks. 

The left target is out in the open and very low-risk; sometimes it can even be hit off a ricochet. On the other hand, the right target is squeezed right in beside the ramp's post and is not an easy shot to make. It's still reasonably easy but there is an element of risk. Now, the STARCHILD target bank, that is tough to hit! 
Looking at the playfield map, it looks like an easy shot from the right flipper but, like the center ramp, it is high up on the playfield and partially obscured by the bumpers. A loose shot may be caught by the bumpers and launched elsewhere. Moving along the playfield, there is a familiar shot through the bumpers...
Must be John Borg! Yes, Borg is the designer of KISS and included his trademark bumper shot along with the scoop at the entrance. I don't know if it is the angle of the scoop or what but it is hard to sink a ball into! That bumper shot is tight too and feels a lot more restricted than previous iterations but along with a lot of shots on this table, successfully hitting it feels so satisfying! 

If those bumpers look familiar to you, it is because they were first featured on Bally's 1978 rendition of KISS!
KISS is a love letter to the pinball tables of before. The bumpers for one are an homage to the old-school style of bumpers...
Though it's not the first time Stern has paid their respects to the bumper style
There is even the big nuclear explosion taking up the lower playfield!
Dig that hand-drawn artwork! It's a nice tribute to the original artist of 78's KISS table, Kevin O'Connor, done by none other than... Kevin O'Connor! That's right, Stern assigned Kevin O'Connor to draw the art package of KISS and he did an amazing job. I would go so far as to say the art on Stern's KISS is way better than the '78 edition. It's a lot more colourful and has all sorts of neat little things hidden away.
The cabinet art is really cool. It's similar to the original KISS table and is plastered with the painted faces of the band members but is done up in this stunning blue-red-and-purple combo.
OUTTA SIGHT! This is a downright beautiful table. The playfield inserts have colour-changing LEDs and with Stern's new SPIKE system installed, the LED lights can now fade in and out!
Even though this is a brand-spanking new table, I already started noticing some problems. The playfield was looking a bit grimy despite just being placed in California Sandwiches; it was starting to look like a table that has not had a good cleaning in a little while. I noticed on the ball that there was a big chunk of dirt or grease or something that was marking up the table something awful.

After a few games, something strange started happening. The lower portion of the table would cut out for a second or two and I would lose power to the flippers! It's a pain in the butt for that to happen, especially when you have Multiball and three balls are coming down towards the flippers! Helluva time for the flippers to cut out...

Apparently it may have something to do with the code and has been resolved with the most recent update but we will have to wait to see if this table gets updated. Despite the technical difficulties, MUF made his mark on KISS!
I also want to give a special shoutout to the left outlane. I don't know what it is but I lost so many damn balls to that outlane, it's unbelievable. The outlane post is set to make the opening wider but so many damn times the ball would sail over to the left playfield and find its way to that outlane. Seems to be a common thread with Borg-designed tables because I have had this very same issue with The Walking Dead and X-Men although this could be due to the level of the tables I have played in the past.
Big thanks to Toronto Coin Exchange for keeping the city updated with the latest pinball machines! Their latest gift is KISS at California Sandwiches, dropping it off a week prior to the launch parties! When I found out through the Toronto Pinball Crew that Stern's latest offering has arrived within city limits, I made my way to my local haunt to take it in. What I found was a phenomenal table all around. Everything from the music to the playfield to the art is just top notch. KISS is tough but when you dial in any of the shots, it is a very satisfying feeling. The custom artwork is too sweet and is even done by the artist of the original '78 KISS table, Kevin O'Connor! Despite a few technical troubles, I had an absolute blast playing KISS and already consider this to be an instant classic in the Stern roster. Get out to California Sandwiches, grab a veal sandwich and a couple of games on KISS! It's awesome! 

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